Don’t Panic! 3 Tips to Survive the Holidays

Autism, Special Needs Parenting

The holidays will be here soon!  If this sentence causes your heart to race, don’t panic!


The holiday season can be really difficult for families with kids with autism and other developmental delays.  Families are torn between wanting to be at holiday events while knowing it could be very stressful for everyone involved.


I’m going to share three tips to help this holiday season be more manageable and enjoyable for you and your family!


I’m not promising perfection, but I will help you figure out what will work best for your child and family.


Tip #1:  Prioritize Your Holiday Events/Outings


First, think about which events and outings are most important to your family AND which are feasible.


(Hint:  They might not be the same.)


How do you figure this out?


Make a list — either in your head or on paper.  What are the events that usually happen during the holidays?  What do you want your family to participate in?


Next, think about what is feasible for your child with autism and the rest of your family.


For instance, he might be ok at the pumpkin patch.  It’s outside.  You can spread out.  He can run around.  You can leave whenever you’re done.


However, a fancy Christmas Eve dinner may not be doable right now.  Too many new people.  New foods.  Unfamiliar place.  Lots of noise.


Think about what your child can handle right now — not what you hope they can handle.


Tip #2:  Prepare (a lot)


Preparing for holiday events and outings takes a lot of preparation for anyone.  However, it’s even more challenging when your child has autism, sensory challenges, and developmental delays.


Prepare early!


Here are some things to think about as your prioritize your events:


  • What are possible sensory challenges?  How can I decrease these for my child?
    • Headphones, comfy clothes, snacks, quiet space, etc. can all decrease sensory challenges.
    • Think about common triggers for your child in other situations.  What helped?
  • Who, where, and when?
    • Who will be there?
    • Where will the event be?  Some place familiar or new?  Outside or inside?  Noisy or quiet?
    • When will it be?  Is it at night or during nap time?  Is it a long event or outing?
  • Who is in charge of watching your child?
    • Have a plan for who is going to watch your toddler or preschooler!  Will you take shifts?  Both of you?  Can another family member help?  Be very clear so no one gets lost.
    • Remember to account for your other kids!
  • Do you have a Plan B?  (You need one!)
    • What happens if your toddler has a meltdown and needs to leave?
    • Does everyone leave?
    • Does one parent take the child home and everyone else stays?
  • Can you practice certain events or parts of an event?
    • Is there a part of the activity you can practice beforehand?
    • For instance, can you go to the neighbor’s house?
    • Can you practice putting on the costume?
    • Is it feasible to go to the airport ahead of time?
    • Practice should be based on your child’s ability.
  • Bring ALL the things!!!
    • Snacks, blankets, comfort items, iPAD, charger, headphones, favorite stuffed animal, whatever!
    • Pack whatever you think will help your child!
  • Prepare friends and extended family.
    • Talk to your family ahead of time about common behaviors your child does, how they can help, preferred foods, and how to interact with your child.
  • Hire a sitter?
    • If this is an option for you — GREAT!
    • Some events may be very important to you, but know it’s not a good fit for your child right now — hire a sitter if that’s possible.
    • This option often isn’t possible for a lot of families.  In that case, decide if it’s something you need to miss this year or if your partner can stay home.


I know!!  There’s a lot to think about, but a lot of preparation will help things run as smoothly as possible!


Tip #3:  Be Realistic


After 2020, most of us want to get out, see more people, and be around family for the holidays.


However, we need to be realistic in what our child is able to do right now and keep that in mind as you prioritize and prepare.


  • I can’t say it enough — think about what your child is able to do right now!
    • By keeping your expectations reasonable, you’ll avoid pushing your child to do something he or she isn’t ready for yet.
  • Keep it simple.
    • You don’t need to be Martha Stewart!  Have a few simple outings.  Decorate a tree.  Bake something.  Watch a movie together.
  • Keep plans flexible.
    • You might need to leave early.
    • You might need to go another day.
    • You may decide to abandon that plan totally.


Bonus Tips!


After reading all of this, you may not want to have to think about anything else!


But, if you’re still with me and want a few more holiday tips, here you go!


  • Avoid multiple outings a day — or at least plan for breaks!
  • Keep routines the same as much as possible.
    • Bed times, naps, meal times, etc.
  • Avoid other big changes during the holidays (and other hectic times).
    • Potty training, sleeping in a new bed, giving up the pacifier, etc.
    • Tackle these things once your life has settled back down.
  • Take care of yourself!
    • Schedule a time when you have a few minutes alone or can do something that you want to do during the holidays.


Wrap Up


The holidays are a stressful and chaotic time for many of us!  However, prioritizing, preparing, and being realistic will help you and your family have a happy holiday season and end 2021 on a good note!


Check out my post on travel tips for kids with autism.  Also, read about how to talk to your family about your child’s special needs.


If you missed it, read my post on how to teach your child with autism to wear a mask!  That will also help with being prepared and traveling.


Any tips or strategies you want to share?  I’d love to hear about them!


Here’s an article that asks autistic adults what helped them as a child during the holidays.




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